Big Ten Media Days are set to kick off today, and you know what that means? Yep, we’re getting closer and closer to kicking off the season!
With that being said, it’s time we got a little taste for the Michigan Wolverines upcoming opponents in the 2018 season.
That’s why I sat down with the good folks over at OneFootDown.com — the Notre Dame SB Nation affiliate site — and talked with their very own Joshua Vowles.
Josh LaFond: Notre Dame started out a team on fire during last year’s campaign, but faded off as the season went on. With that in mind, what is the buzz around South Bend regarding the Fighting Irishs’ chances this upcoming season?
Joshua Vowles: Cautious optimism. The defense returns just about everyone, and took a huge step in the right direction last season. Because of the defense and a solid special teams unit of Justin Yoon and Tyler Newsome, the Irish should be able to take some pressure off quarterback Brandon Wimbush and the offense as a whole. Most people covering the program believe a 10-win season is a fair probability.
The problem is that Brian Kelly has yet to put together two double-digit win seasons in a row, so...we got that going for us.
Josh L: I think myself and most Michigan fans would echo your feelings too; it’s cautious optimism regarding the Wolverines as well.
Let me follow up that last question with a real humdinger: Is Brian Kelly’s seat getting warm?
Joshua V: Probably not. After a disastrous 2016, he produced a 10-win season that ended with a win over LSU in the Citrus Bowl. Despite a loud portion of the Notre Dame fanbase calling for Kelly’s head, he has the trust of athletic director, Jack Swarbrick. As long as that remains true, Kelly is pretty safe in his job.
Josh L: Keeping his friends close I see, smart man.
With the losses of NFL draftees — offensive lineman Quenton Nelson and running back Josh Adams, is the talent there to “plug and play” with little to no drop off, or are growing pains expected?
Joshua V: It’s not exactly “plug and play,” but I also don’t expect it to be a pain. Quenton Nelson was probably the best offensive linemen we’ve seen in college football for at least the last decade, so there is a drop off, but Alex Bars will step in and play well — just as he did last year. It’s a little different at running back with some inexperienced bodies, but there is still talent in the backfield.
Josh L: It will certainly be a test for Alex Bars going up against the defensive end tandem of Rashan Gary and Chase Winnovich, that’s for sure.
Let’s switch it up just a bit. Earlier this year, head coach Brian Kelly dismissed four players from the team. How much does this hurt Notre Dame on the field going forward?
Joshua V: The loss of defensive tackle Brandon Tiassum is of little consequence.
The three offensive players, however, would have certainly helped the Irish in 2018. Running backs CJ Holmes, now at Penn State, and Deon McIntosh would have been heavily involved in the running back rotation. Wide receiver Kevin Stepherson was one of the more dangerous players for the Irish last year (after he served a four-game suspension to start the season) and would have remained as such this season if he was on the team.
Still...I can’t help but think that this could be addition by subtraction. Clearing the locker room of guys that easily found themselves in trouble isn’t a bad thing. I won’t go as far as saying they were a “cancer,” but it sets an example and a standard moving forward for the rest of the team.
Josh L: You’re probably right, Joshua. At least from my “outsider” point of view, it’s usually in the best interest of the team to move on from a situation where you might lose the locker room and team as a whole.
I think it’s safe to say that the QB is linchpin of the offense, and a lot of times determines the success that a team has. So let me ask this question, my friend: Does Notre Dame’s success this upcoming season ride or die returning starting quarterback Brandon Wimbush?
Joshua V: I wouldn’t say that it’s “ride or die” with Wimbush, but it does depend on him quite a bit. He possesses the skill to take the Irish to the next level, but if he can’t get the job done, Ian Book has shown himself to be more than capable.
Josh L: It’ll be interesting to see if Wimbush can take the next step in his maturation, for sure.
As somewhat of a follow up to that last question, what would make a successful season for the Irish?
Joshua V: A “successful season” can be seen in quite a few different ways by Irish eyes, but I believe it comes down to the playoffs.
The Irish came close in 2015 and 2017 but poor November performances saw those hopes implode. I don’t think Michigan is a “must win” with it being so early in the season, but a win would definitely help set up a run. Stanford, Florida State and USC are the three must wins that I have circled.
I’m expecting a 10-2 record. If that gets Notre Dame into the playoffs, then it was the right 10. If the Irish don’t get in — it was the wrong 2.
Josh L: Yeah I’d say that’s pretty much the exact same way Wolverine fans would describe a successful season. Beat your rivals — or at least the majority of them — and win double-digits with the playoffs continually being in their sights, and having a good shot at getting in.
This has been fun but like all good things they must come to an end — womp womp womp. So let’s stir up the comments section with this last question. As of today, who do you see winning in South Bend, Indiana, Sept. 1st?
Joshua V: As of today and for the next month, I predict an Irish win. I think the game will be pretty low scoring and have a 17-13 final that I can’t get out of my head.
Josh L: Although we disagree on the outcome, I think it’ll be a tightly contested, low-scoring game as well. We look forward to revisiting this prediction as we preview the Michigan/Notre Dame game before the season gets underway.
I would like to extend my sincerest thanks to Joshua Vowles and the rest of the staff over at One Foot Down. They were a pleasure to work with and provide excellent coverage of the Irish. Head on over to OneFootDown.com and stay up to date on Michigan’s foe as the game creeps closer and closer.